The vendor booth at last weekend’s Hebron Harvest Fair was a little off the beaten track, tucked over by the pig races, which have gotten pretty fancy in recent years. For sale among the gimmee hats and belt buckles were Confederate battle flags repurposed with words that included “freedom,” along with clothing emblazoned with “FJB.” If you do not support the current president and are tacky, that abbreviation is a cousin to those “Let’s Go, Brandon” hats – also available for purchase at the booth in question.
Amid the prize pumpkins, homemade jam, and prize rabbits, this is standard county fair merch. Ironically, the fairs that dot Connecticut’s landscape this time of year market themselves as family-friendly events, though I suppose that doesn’t mean all families, maybe just the white ones who want to hoist the flag of treasonous slaveowners.
When alerted to the merchandise, Hebron fair organizers reached out to the vendor and asked the content be removed, but on the morning of the last day of the fair, save for a large battle flag, the merchandise was still on display.
We need to talk about this, and ask ourselves why this is allowed. I say this as a product of the semi-South, where we were introduced to the battle flag as a symbol of rebellion, completely detached from its roots. I fear people still treat it that way, at their peril. It took a high school civics teacher to connect for me that flag and slavery. Until then, I was still learning about the War of Northern Aggression, and it didn’t matter that my textbooks called it the Civil War.
Of course, the Constitution’s First Amendment protects these vendors’ and fair organizers’ right to display such items, though I believe I could make a pretty good argument that this symbol is hate speech. But until the courts agree with me, I respect their right to wave, sell, or display this monstrosity, except for the people who carried that flag into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. I have nothing for them.
I also respect that such speech carries consequences, and in this case, I would hope that means less business coming the vendors’ way. I would not take away their ability to indulge in such speech – again, until the courts say so – but I would expect the marketplace to make doing so less attractive, dollar-wise. I will, as it were, take my dollars elsewhere to a marketplace that feels more inclusive.
I am not alone in this. The reaction by fairgoers to Hebron’s booth – at least on one of the days the fair was open – was telling. Most people gave the display wide berth, but when one member of a couple would walk over to look at the trinkets, more than once, the other half would steer that shopper away.
“Not here,” one man said to a woman who’d walked up to look at the blankets, and they moved on.
To be honest, it is a jarring thing to see a Confederate flag up here in the north, though it’s not as rare a sight as it once was. We like to say that the former president emboldened such displays, but that’s mostly white people saying that. People of color know that this has been out there since forever.
If those fair organizers worry that standing against this symbol of white supremacy will cut into their profits, in 2020, no less a Southern-fried entity than NASCAR banned the display of the flag at its racetracks, and business has been booming since. (Those Brandon flags, though, are still hoisted.)
Years ago, I reviewed for a local newspaper a concert by the reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd (who are scheduled to appear at the Big E next month). This was the band of my youth, and I’d never seen so many Confederate flags displayed in one spot in Connecticut. I chalked the display up to a lack of a sense of history, with a dollop of general ignorance thrown in. You ignore it, and it will go away.
But it didn’t, did it?
About halfway through their set, when the crowd was on its feet, there unfurled behind the band a giant battle flag onstage. The arena erupted and at the time, I thought, “They have no idea what they’re cheering.” I am older now. I would never give people cheering for that flag the same benefit of the doubt. People who cheer, wear, or argue in favor of the symbol know precisely what they’re doing.
Fair season ends in October. Now would be a good time for the organizers of the state’s beloved country fairs to take a stand. Make these little pieces of Americana family friendly for all. Put that flag to rest.